SBD/Issue 122/Leagues & Governing Bodies

MLB Seeks Foothold In China As Dodgers, Padres Face Off

Padres Gearing For Weekend Exhibition
Games Against Dodgers In Beijing
The Dodgers and Padres will play exhibition games Saturday and Sunday at Beijing’s Wukesong Stadium, the newly constructed venue that will host baseball at this summer’s Olympic Games, according to Mark Magnier of the L.A. TIMES. Magnier notes despite its “success in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, baseball faces an uphill battle” in China. Soccer and basketball have a “big head start, and football, wrestling, tennis, cricket and rugby are all bucking for a foothold. NASCAR is sniffing around. And hockey hasn’t ruled out a play down the road.” The market “could produce a windfall for those who get it right.” Dodgers CMO Charles Steinberg: “You want to hope you light a fire that starts a burning passion for baseball. If that happens, those that count the money will have their day.” Shanghai-based Zou Marketing GM Terry Rhoads, whose company is running MLB’s Play Ball youth program in China, said that “though some estimates place the Chinese sports market at about $10[B] a year, a fraction of America’s $300[B], that’s tripled over the last decade and is expected to continue growing rapidly.” As part of its Play Ball initiative, MLB is “training coaches, working with sports and education authorities and has donated thousands of bats, balls and gloves to participating schools.” But baseball faces “huge challenges,” as there are “almost no baseball diamonds” and Wukesong reportedly is set to be razed following the Olympics. MLB “isn’t disclosing what its China budget is or how long it’s willing to wait for a return on its investment, but it’s almost certainly outgunned by the NBA, which has a $250[M] war chest, four offices in China with 100 employees and capital in reserve” (L.A. TIMES, 3/14).

COVERING ALL THE BASES: The games are expected to be covered by more than 400 members of the media. Dodgers RF Matt Kemp: “I don’t think I’ve seen this much media at a baseball game other than maybe New York” (L.A. TIMES, 3/14). The games will be broadcast on Chinese TV and MLB officials have said that this “means the sport will be exposed to 700 million people” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/13). In L.A., KCAL-Ind will air Friday's contest, while FSN Prime Ticket will air Saturday's game. Channel 4 San Diego will air both games (THE DAILY).

MAKING AN INVESTMENT: In Denver, Jack Etkin wrote MLB last summer opened an office in Beijing and in August “conducted its first academy in China, a three-week session for 60 of the top-rated 12- to 15-year olds.” But what will “accelerate the growth is if MLB can duplicate the NBA’s good fortune and have a standout Chinese player come to the United States and succeed” (ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS, 3/12). In San Diego, Mark Zeigler wrote MLB “wants what the [NBA] has” in China. Padres CEO Sandy Alderson: “The baseball analogy for [Rockets C] Yao Ming does not exist. He has to be created. That’s going to be up to [MLB] or Japanese baseball or some other baseball entity to develop.” The Olympics will give baseball a “further boost” in China, but government funding for the country’s national team is “expected to be slashed significantly, if not completely” with the sport being voted out of the 2012 London Olympics. However, Alderson said China remains a “tremendous commercial opportunity.” Alderson: “If you project out 50 years to the middle of the century and you talk about a global village, where does that leave sports? It’s very possible that sports will be popular in individual countries as viable businesses. But 50 years from now, I think it’s going to be all about international business” (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 3/9).

Dodgers Looking To Establish
Brand Identity In China
DODGERS GOING GLOBAL: Dodgers GM Ned Colletti said the team is “trying to establish a brand internationally. Our brand’s solid in Japan, (South) Korea and Taiwan. We want to continue to expand it” (ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS, 3/12). Dodgers Owner Frank McCourt: “We’re building bridges around the world. It’s not about two games. It’s about exposing the game to youngsters and exposing the job of the game. I’m very impressed by the speed with which things happen in China. I think it will happen more quickly than we anticipate.” He added, “It’s our hope the Dodgers are the first in India and other parts of the world” (MLB.com, 3/14).

CHALLENGES AHEAD: USA TODAY’s Calum MacLeod notes there are “no professional baseball players in China.” China Baseball Association Secretary-General Shen Wei said that the six-team China Baseball League, starting its sixth season next month, is “propped up by the government.” Shen: “The government must support the sport’s growth. The equipment is too expensive for many Chinese, and the game cannot be played in densely populated areas. So it is difficult to popularize baseball” (USA TODAY, 3/14). YAHOO SPORTS’ Steve Henson wrote despite MLB’s efforts, China is “clearly straddling the foul line in its commitment to baseball.” Baseball games in China “aren’t well attended, and the few folks who do buy tickets out of curiosity clap at odd times and cheer loud fouls” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/12).

WARNING SIGNS: Because of the air quality issues in Beijing, Padres strength & conditioning coach Jim Malone said the team “actually talked about, should we get (surgical) masks for guys?” (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 3/10). Padres P Heath Bell said of Beijing, “It’s either very cloudy or very smoggy.” Alderson added, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen blue sky here.” However, Alderson said, “I don’t think it concerns us a great deal. It’s a short period of time. We’re only playing two games” (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 3/13). Meanwhile, YAHOO SPORTS’ Henson wrote in a separate piece the Padres have “done [their] best to nip any shenanigans in the bud, primarily by trying to frighten the players into submission.” The team has posted warnings about indoor and outdoor pollution, water pollution and the rise of sexually transmitted diseases in the country. MLB also “issued an advisory that described Beijing scams designed to part Western visitors from their money” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/12).

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